‘A new danger’: UK coronavirus variant begins circulating in Belgium

‘A new danger’: UK coronavirus variant begins circulating in Belgium
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (left) and Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. Credit: Belga

The UK coronavirus variant has started circulating in Belgium without links to foreign travel, according to results from a pilot project that Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke presented in the Chamber on Thursday.

“B117, the virus variant that was discovered in the United Kingdom, is also circulating in Belgium,” Vandenbroucke said, adding that 18 new cases had been found.

The infections were found in a pilot testing project conducted by Professor Herman Goossens, who examined 17 infection clusters in Antwerp, with all samples taken after 2 January.

“Those 17 clusters that were examined were all patients from whom there was a suspect sample,” Vandenbroucke said. “In 8 of those 17, this PCR test ‘predicted’ that it concerned an infection with the UK variant.”

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The genome analysis of the samples is still ongoing, but has already been completed for six of the eight samples, which all turned out to be the UK variant, making up a total of 18 patients.

Additionally, three of those cases had no link with a foreign country, meaning that they were infected in Belgium. The others were not always linked to the UK, but also to Switzerland, Dubai and Lebanon.

“So it is more widely spread,” said Vandenbroucke, who emphasised that these patients and their GPs were contacted very quickly by the local health inspector.

In addition to the Antwerp pilot project, federal testing laboratories have also noted “a significant increase” in samples missing the so-called s-gene, which could indicate the presence of the UK variant, according to experts. “That should worry us. We are facing a new danger,” said Vandenbroucke.

Vandenbroucke expects that the Corona Commissionerate will have new advice about how to approach the UK variant by Friday evening at the latest.

“We have to move fast, both in the analysis and in the follow-up,” he stressed. “Follow-up on quarantine by local authorities is essential.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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